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Domestic Biographies

Stowe, Howells, James, and Wharton at Home


Elif S. Armbruster

Domestic Biographies: Stowe, Howells, James, and Wharton at Home presents comparative domestic biographies of four American Realist writers: Harriet Beecher Stowe, William Dean Howells, Henry James, and Edith Wharton. Drawing upon extensive primary sources to reconstruct the authors’ private lives, Domestic Biographies illuminates how they lived when no one was looking. In particular this book examines how the authors worked and wrote at home and how their home life in turn made its way into their novels and non-fiction. Domestic Biographies offers an innovative and exciting architectural and domestic lens through which to study the lives and literature of America’s best-known Realists.


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PART TWO: Living to Write


PART TWO Living to Write CHAPTER THREE Henry James: Dwelling in the “House of Fiction” “The house of fiction has in short not one window, but a million—a number of possible windows not to be reckoned; rather, every one of which has been pierced, or is still pierceable, in its vast front, by the need of the individual vision and by the pressure of the individual will.” —Henry James, Preface to The Portrait of a Lady (New York Edition, 1908) In 1897 when he was fifty-four years old, Henry James moved into the first house that he would ever own: Lamb House, located in the English coastal town of Rye, sixty-three miles from London. 1 For the previous quarter-century, the writer had lived in two apartments in London, one at 3 Bolton Street and the other at 34 De Vere Gardens. Why did it take James so long to buy his first home? Surely his bachelorhood had something to do with it—he did not need a secure residence in the way that William Dean Howells and Harriet Beecher Stowe, with their spouses and numerous children, did—but the decision not to own was more than a question of logistics or finances. Until he moved to Rye, James had lived in London for over twenty years (1876–1897); the city, he felt, was the place of necessity for the writer who wished to “suck the atmosphere of its intimations and edifications.” 2 From the time he was a young...

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